Fans are the most bizarre creatures that exist, especially when it comes to sequels. Building upon what the previous title offered with a next instalment is always expected from them, even if it turns into a spin-off game. Personally, I am against this attitude and believe this can even hinder creativity, despite that working within limitations can also produce gold. I will admit that I was taken off guard by titles like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Metroid Prime: Federation Force and Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, but they were still enjoyable or even fantastic titles that I was happy to invest my time in.
Door Kickers: Action Squad changes the perspective, tone, and even style completely from the last game. The only aspects they share are that you play as a team of SWAT, RPG elements, and of course: kicking doors. This is a strange take on the series, but with a direct sequel coming out soon, I am happy that Killhouse wanted to try out something different and have a bit of fun with their series. Who knows, maybe their ideas from the first entry could work better here with a complete shift in gameplay? Let’s go gun blazing, save people, and kick some doors!
Yippee Ki Yay, Motherdoors!
While Door Kickers: Action Squad follows the same ideas from its predecessor by being a tactical shooter, it is not within the same genre. Instead of being a strategy-title with an overhead view and the ability to pause the action in order to rethink your plans, this instalment is a side-scrolling action game where you play as one selected unit and must be quick on your reflexes and thinking. This completely changes the setup from the last entry, to the point where the mouse/touchscreen has been replaced with an actual controller. This entry is still mission-based structured, with some other modes included that we will look at later in this review.
There are over 80 missions in this title, all divided between seven campaigns. To keep up a solid variety throughout, the goals will differ between them, such as kill all hostile creatures, save hostages, defuse a ticking bomb, and so on. This makes you plan out how to approach a mission beforehand, but will also affect your playstyle. I say this, as you can choose between six soldiers to play as, all being more valuable for specific tasks and levels thanks to their unique setups.
The soldiers you can choose between are assaulter, breacher, shield, agent fergie, recon, and off-duty guy. Each comes with their own weapons and abilities, such as agent fergie having a dodge-roll and a knife at disposal, breacher uses a shotgun for maximum carnage, and so on. This provides great diversity in playstyles, since it gives a lovely mix between you finding your comfort zone and you planing on how to take on the mission the best way possible.
This is helped even further by how Door Kickers: Action Squad handles RPG elements. By finishing missions or even failing at them, you will gain XP and be able to level up your comrades. Each levelling up yields two skill points that can either be spent on one of the three skill trees for the class you levelled up or one of the two skill trees for the team that will affect everybody. This again helps with choosing whether you want to change up your playstyle frequently or give one class you enjoy more support and abilities. You can even reset skill points spend on the classes should you want to tweak them slightly.
If that was not enough, you can gain upwards to a rank of three stars depending on your performance in missions. These are used for unlocking more campaigns and again for purchasing equipment like guns, armour, and gears. However, the items are never overpriced, but rather balanced to only give you a slightly better setup. This also goes for levelling up actually, as it only supports your playstyle and is not necessary for completing any mission. This is a great way to give the player a nice feeling of progression, but no need for grinding missions. Just you doing your job and be rewarded for a task well done.
This is surely a great step up from the last game, but it would not have meant anything if the designs of the levels and our characters’ mechanics did not match. Luckily, that is not the case here. Door Kickers: Action Squad focuses on tight action, as your your units have each one firearm, one melee attack, can utilise gears such as frag grenades, and can jump, duck, and hide behind covers. It is a nice setup that is not complicated, but the fiends you will be up against makes every action important. All enemies are aggressive and diverse, be it the unstable mad men trying to stab you, rednecks using shotguns, paranoid gangsters or terrorists that will play defensively in order to take you down, just to name some examples.
Because of this, you will always have to think about whom to take out first, how to approach a room, and even if you should fire your weapon. You cannot be trigger-happy, as everyone can be killed off by anyone’s line of fire, including hostages and police officers. Not everything will instantly kill you, but your health bar can quickly drain, and dying will have you start the mission over. This makes Door Kickers: Action Squad quite tense, but missions are short enough to make trying again never discouraging.
In short, this title requires you to be careful with strong planning on the go and have clear reflexes on when to shoot. It is in many ways both slow-paced to make you on the edge, but also demand that you attack aggressively when it is called for. I love this, as it creates a wonderful tension due to the enemies’ variety and how they are placed around the stages in order to test you, but never to unfairly so thanks to all the tools and abilities you have at disposal.
This is also strengthened by the great level designs the missions come with, as there are many ways to take them on. For example, you can jump down through a glass ceiling in one mission in order to free the hostages as quickly as possible or kick down a door to stun the enemies on the other side. Door Kickers: Action Squad always provide you with choices on how to approach each area, making missions never become dull despite the concept never evolving beyond the different enemies to take on. The levels also changes in structure, such as houses with multiple floors, dark basements where you need some source of light or trains, making the game never uneventful.
Then we have plenty of beautiful details, such as how entering rooms with a bang will provide slow motion, shooting rapid will scatter your shots in contrast to more rhythmic ones, and that everybody can only shoot in a horizontal manner and must reload their weapons. However, the nicest addition is your power meter. By saving hostages and killing bad guys, you fill it up and can use portions of it for specific effects, such as deploy a first aid kit, call in reinforcement or using an ultimate attack that takes a full bar. I love this subtle ace in the sleeve, as you are still required to up your game and play well, but are also rewarded for it.
There can be some trial and error due to how difficult some missions are, but that is never because of an unfair challenge. Door Kickers: Action Squad has so many small details that, while it never changes up its formula with new setups completely, it is always engaging, tense, and demanding. You can even bring in a buddy along for some good old school co-op. As you might be able to tell, this entry mixes the traditional side-scrolling shooter with the tactical ideas from Tom Clancy games, but comes with its own twist on it all to make itself unique and exhilarating.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
Your mission: decorate the Christmas Tree!
This headline should give you an idea on how “serious” Door Kickers: Action Squad takes itself. There are a lot of comedic setups here, with subtle and clever references to action movies like Die Hard and simply fun concepts like handcuffing old ladies who disturb your rescue mission. Enemies come in a good variety with some entertaining cliches attached, like druggies in lab coats, gangsters with bandannas holding machetes, shirtless maniacs with guns, and so on. This all adds to make them memorable in how they fight, but also in style. The classes are just as adorably designed with each having distinct voices that are strong and over the top. Off-duty guy might be my favourite, due to barely being ready for any mission.
I just wish the areas you visited were more distinct and creative. There are some variety to the locations, such as abandoned neighbourhoods, old garages, and tall hotels, all being decorated with furniture and small references through elements such as posters. However, with the game’s comedic and action-packed tone, why not go all out? Missions could take place in the jungles, inside hospitals with narcotic nurses or perhaps even in different timelines?
It is a shame the developers could not have tapped the potentials here, but Door Kickers: Action Squad still provides enough visual entertainment to be engaging. However, the best part about this whole project is how consistent this title is with its pixel art. Everything feels clearly made with one console generation in mind, which is simply wonderful. Combine this with great lighting and violence that has tons of blood being spread everywhere, it is always a joy to see chaos occurring.
Then we have the soundtrack by Gavin Harrison. I am not too familiar with this composer, but I truly hope to be after hearing his work in this title. The mix of chiptune and rocking guitar is fantastic here, focusing on creating both tension and action through beautiful buildups. The songs contain low tones for the stealthy approaches, bombastic climaxes to make you ready for the action, and hard basses to build up your heartbeat for what you cannot see. It is a gorgeous soundtrack, with diverse and long songs that are always perfect for every mission and very in tune with the 80s’ style. Overall, the presentation is packed with action and silly enough to be entertaining.
Presentation Score: 7.5/10
A mix of the old, new, and trends
I want to praise the co-op again, as it is a fantastic addition for making more strategic planning and can be done through local or online play. Besides this, it is incredibly fun to go for perfect scores in all of the missions, and the Infinity Tower with random structures and missions is a fun roguelike challenge that will put any veteran to the ultimate test. You will not get much for completing the game, but the journey is still an exciting one.
I was originally intrigued by the zombie mode, but it is just the same missions as those in the main campaigns. The only difference, is that there are now zombies added in them that can turn anyone into one of themselves. There is a decent variety of these monsters, such as exploding ones, and I do like the idea of this setup. Unfortunately, that is it and far from enough reasons to play the exact same missions over again. Thankfully, the secret donuts and leaderboards do help the replay value, and everything is more entertaining with a good friend.
Extra Score: 7/10
Door Kickers: Action Squad is just pure action entertainment that requires good reflexes and quick thinking. I really believe this is a smart sequel that knows how far to go with its concept and how to do it right. It simply could have gone a bit further with its visual insanity, and the extras could have used more elements to them. Still, this tactical side-scroller is addictive, thrilling, and tense for all the right reasons. Take on the challenges and remember: if it bleeds, you can kill it! Including hostages you need to save.